Voters in large numbers in New Town on Kolkata's northern fringes have claimed that they were not allowed to exercise their franchise in the West Bengal panchayat elections, as “goons” stopped them from entering polling booths in the area.
A total of 2.06 lakh candidates are in the fray for elections to 73,887 seats in the three-tier panchayat system in the state, which were held on Saturday. About 5.67 crore people living in the state's rural areas were eligible to vote.
A 75-year-old retired academician claimed that he made two attempts to cast his vote at APJ Abdul Kalam College, the polling centre, but was stopped by a group of people.
“First, they stopped me at 8 am. Many people blocked roads leading to the polling centre with guard rails. Then again around 12 noon, I tried to go to the booth along with a neighbour, but we had to return. The people standing outside the polling centre told us that our votes have been polled,” the elderly man said.
“Later, I heard they had done the same thing at other booths in the township, too," he added.
Some residents of the smart city, under the banner of New Town Forum, had been protesting for long against the inclusion of the township in panchayat area. The forum had also decided to boycott the polls.
Another section, however, said they were unhappy as New Town was a part of panchayat, but wanted to cast votes to be a part of the democratic process.
Various political parties, including the ruling Trinamool Congress, had urged people of the area to vote in the panchayat polls.
Samir Gupta, the secretary of New Town Citizen’s Welfare Fraternity, said, “We witnessed the killing of democracy. The APJ Abdul Kalam College was surrounded by police barricades, and no one was allowed to enter the booth to vote.” “Miscreants came in buses with bombs and pistols, and drove us away,” he claimed.
Gupta also alleged that the call to boycott the rural polls in New Town was a part of a plan to cast false votes.
A few residents, who could not vote, also uploaded videos of alleged obstruction at polling boots and absence of police personnel, on social media.
Meanwhile, Samaresh Das, the chairman of New Town Forum, accused the ruling TMC of “using our boycott call to loot votes”.
Local CPI(M) leader Saptarshi Deb said access routes to all polling stations were blocked, and he was not allowed to step out of his home on Saturday.
“It was a total subversion of the democratic process in New Town, and people were obstructed from exercising their franchise under the pretext of vote boycott,” he said.
TMC leader of the area Anindyo Sinha Roy claimed that he was stopped by some miscreants from visiting the nearby market.
“They blocked roads with banners of vote boycott and never allowed anyone to pass. Nobody was carrying any political flag. If the forum thought that the ruling party did this by using the platform's name, they could have complained to the police,” Sinha Roy said.
The township was reportedly a panchayat area with two members, but after delimitation a few months ago, the number of representatives rose to eight.
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